And Baby Makes ... Emperor?

Japan's Crown Princess Masako gave birth for the first time last week, bringing both celebration and a sigh of relief to a nation worried about succession in its ancient and revered monarchy.

The birth came eight years after the marriage of Crown Prince Naruhito to the American-educated diplomat. In most countries, such a birth might be joy enough. In Japan, however, the fact that the baby is a girl raises all sorts of royal complications.

If she remains an only child, or her siblings are girls, Japan will be faced with the dilemma of deciding whether to let a woman become emperor.

Under current law, she cannot. The last female emperor was in the 8th century, and she was noted for deposing her predecessor, another woman. Since then, Japan has remained very much a man's world, with very little progress in women's rights and equality. This has helped contribute to a feeling of disenfranchisement among young women, leading to a steep drop in marriage and birth rates.

Reversing such trends will take both real and symbolic acts. Rather than wait for a royal child who might be male, the government can change the law to let a woman become the symbol of the nation.

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